No Hard Feelings is Jennifer Lawrence’s new movie which sees her take on comedy like never before. Based on a real-life Craigslist advert, the film tells the story of a desperate young woman trying to save her home by any means necessary – even if that means dating the lonely 19-year-old Percy for his wealthy parents’ car.
Full of laughs, comments on loneliness, and enduring character journeys, this is a film that will stick in your mind for years to come. And to celebrate the release of No Hard Feelings, we sat down with the new movie‘s writer and director, Gene Stupnitsky. Stupnitsky is no stranger to comedy, having worked on hilarious classics such as the hit TV series The Office as a writer and helming the 2019 box-office smash Good Boys. And the filmmaker’s hilarious instincts impress again in his clever yet raunchy comedy movie No Hard Feelings.
In our interview with the director, we discuss the ins and outs of his new movie. We break down John Hughes inspirations, hear his take on female-led stories, and learn why he believes every filmmaker should get the chance to work with Jennifer Lawrence.
The Digital Fix: So, first off, I loved No Hard Feelings. One of my favorite things about it is the fact that it’s based on a true story. It was inspired by a Craigslist ad you found out in the wild. I wanted to know how much of that original ad was actually kept in your final draft of the script?
Gene Stupnitsky: I think just the idea. I think maybe in the original ad, it was a single mom, but I don’t remember. But you know, the details were changed; I think in the ad, the guy was going to Harvard, and, of course, Percy is going to Princeton. You know, things like that.
But I think just the general idea of helicopter parents finding a young woman to date their son.
Yeah, just that concept really reflects the humor in the script, which is cringe humor. I laughed out loud multiple times at the film, but it reminds you of how difficult cringe comedy can be. As a writer, how do you find the line between funny and ‘oh, my god, I just want to die out of embarrassment.’
Well, I think the audience will tell you. You know, we test these movies, and the audience will tell you. If you can hear certain laughter mixed with groans, you have to be like, ‘hmm, maybe not on that one.’
Because laughter, it’s involuntary, right? It’s a visceral reaction. And sometimes you can’t help yourself. You’ll laugh at something that you’re not really sure about.
But the audience, I think, tells us where the line is. And you know, in the writing process, you have time as you’re rewriting to think about, ‘Okay, really, what is this joke about?’ Yeah, so it’s probably just a mixture of the writer’s opinion and the audience.
What really struck me about the cringe comedy was how good Jennifer Lawrence’s timing was. I thought that she just nailed it. I know that you know her personally, as well. What was it like directing her as Maddie?
I mean, it was interesting because I knew her socially for a while, but I never really saw her work. So when she came on set, it was a whole different person. I was kinda like, ‘Oh, that’s right. I forgot you have this. This is what you’re known for.’ And it kind of blew me away.
She’s so powerful. Her screen presence is amazing. There’s like a sense of urgency. Everything feels so real. I just wasn’t really prepared for that. It was great. I mean, every director should have the chance to direct Jennifer Lawrence.
Her character Maddie really reminded me of a character from another film that you wrote, which is Bad Teacher. Both those movies feature really dynamic female leads who undergo a spiritual journey. As a writer, and director, what really draws you to those types of stories?
I just think they’re funnier. They’re fresher. I think there are probably more taboos to break with female leads. And, yeah, I don’t know. It’s just creatively more exciting to me, for some reason. It’s just it’s more fun to write for women. I think, really.
Yeah. Speaking about Bad Teachers. I have to ask; I know that you’re working on Bad Teacher 2. How’s that going?
Oh, where does it say that? On IMDb?
Yeah, no. I don’t know if that’s happening. Is that happening?
I don’t know, you tell me [laughs]
[laughs] I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe it’ll happen. But I’m not currently working on it. There are no plans as of right now.
Obviously, No Hard Feelings is its own entity. But I was really reminded of the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when I watched it. Percy, to me, was almost like a version of Cameron (Cameron Frye’s character in the ’80s movie).
Then there’s a car involved in No Hard Feelings too. And in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Cameron’s dad’s car is an important character.
Sure! Then there is Matthew Broderick [who played Ferris Bueller].
Yeah, exactly! He’s in No Hard Feelings, too, as Percy’s dad. So, did that movie serve as an inspiration to you?
I mean, those John Hughes movies I grew up on them. And nobody wrote teenagers better than John Hughes. So yeah, it’s an iconic film with an iconic performance at the center of it.
But I think, yeah, you know, I hadn’t thought about that. But yeah, Cameron is similar to Percy in some ways in that they’re both kind of scared of the world filled with anxiety and neurotic characters.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is (forgive me, Matthew); it’s really Cameron’s movie, and that he has the arc he goes through that change. Ferris Bueller is kind of unflappable throughout the movie, he kind of ends where he starts, but it’s really Cameron that has the experience and grows. So yeah, he is. There’s definitely a similarity for sure.
What I also loved was how the film looked. Visually, it was nostalgic and felt Sunkissed, like ’80s coming-of-age movies. Did you have any visual inspirations or any specific visions that drove how you approached the film?
Yeah, I really, maybe this sounds cliche, but like, I wanted more of, like, a ’70s look to it, a more filmic quality. A lot of comedies, I find can be oversaturated, you know? And I didn’t want that. I wanted more of a naturalistic look.
So that kind of comes down to just coloring the film. And, you know, there’s obviously there’s shots stolen from other movies. I won’t tell you which ones [laughs], but I definitely had a lot of inspiration. A lot of different movies inspired me.
You are a really well-known comedy writer; you’ve worked on classics like the hit TV series, The Office. And the thing about the humor in titles like The Office is that it holds up after years. That’s hard to find in comedy. So, I wanted to ask, What do you think is the key to making comedy that doesn’t age?
I think staying away from topical references helps a lot, you know, telling universal stories. I think that’s probably the biggest one. And also, probably the comedies that age the best are the ones that are humanistic comedies, I would say, more than anything mean-spirited. Although some of those age well, too.
So besides obviously, the helicopter parents theme in No Hard Feelings, I found it really interesting how your movie also touches on dating app fatigue. I wanted to know, what were your opinions on that? And how do you think your movie addresses them?
Well, I had some dating app fatigue back in the day, but I think, you know, she’s, Jennifer’s character is kind of hired to bring Percy out of his shell, which is also being out of his phone.
At the beginning of the movie, he’s on his phone a lot. And eventually, he’s kind of weaned from it. I think when you kind of leave your phone at home, the world can open up to you. And you can look around. You’re like, ‘Oh, there’s like this there?’ I don’t know. I do that. Sometimes I’ll just leave my phone at home, and I never regret it.
No Hard Feelings is a really fun movie to watch. But it also looks like it could be quite challenging to film as well. I mean, for instance, a car gets basically drowned in the ocean at one point. What were the biggest challenges during the production?
Well, what you just said was the biggest challenge.
[laughs] The car ocean scene?
Yeah! Because you don’t have a lot of opportunities. You can do it once or twice. Yeah, that was an expensive scene. So you know, you got to get it right the first time. And you prepare, and you prepare, and you prepare. And then you pray for the gods to smile down upon you.
So, you didn’t have multiple cars to fling into the ocean? It was just that one.
We had two. But we got that scene done on the first try. And then I just took the other car home, and now it’s mine. [laughs]
No Hard Feelings hits cinemas in the UK on June 21 and the US on June 23. For more on the movie, be sure to check out our guide on how to watch No Hard Feelings and our list of the best rom-coms, and the best movies of all time.